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July 31, 2004

Access all areas – or else

From: The Times, UK - Jul 31, 2004

Hotels face fines if they ignore disability rules.

Judy Graham and Tom Chesshyre report

BRITISH hoteliers face the prospect of heavy court fines as the autumn deadline for new disabled access regulations draws near. Disability rights groups say they are poised to take on hotels that do not comply with the new rules, which come into force in October.

"Hoteliers should be taking this very seriously, or they will be sued," said Bert Massie, chairman of the Disability Rights Commission (DRC).

The new rules, which come under the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995, state that hotels, B&Bs and tourist attractions must make "reasonable" adjustments to facilities to allow access for the disabled.

This could mean ramps to front entrances where there are steps, or alternative entrances at the side or rear of properties. It could also mean rooms with wheelchair-friendly bathrooms, handles in showers and beside beds, better signs to show access to fire escapes, text services on televisions for deaf guests, and ramps or lifts to restaurants and bar areas normally accessed by steps.

When disabled guests believe that an accommodation provider or tourist attraction has not done enough to provide access they can either take an individual action to the county court or take the complaint to the DRC, which may take up the case on the guest's behalf.

The success of such a case would depend on whether it is considered "reasonable" to make access changes. The interpretation of what is reasonable would depend on the size of the property and how much improved access would cost. If successful, complainants could be paid as much as £5,000 for injury to feelings, plus costs.

The new October rules are the third and final phase of regulations spelled out in the 1995 Act; the previous two phases said that companies could neither refuse access to the disabled, nor run discriminatory policies or procedures.

Sue Pratt, senior press officer at the DRC, said: "This phase is the big one, the crunch moment. Hotels have had nine years to prepare for it, so they should be ready. While the other phases were to do with procedure, this is to do with bricks and mortar: how hotels and B&Bs are actually changing the physical environment to make movement easier for the disabled."

One in eight disabled people said they have difficulties gaining access to hotels, according to a survey commissioned by the DRC. Steps at the front of buildings and lack of disabled parking were the two biggest obstacles, it found. Disabled travellers also regularly report problems such as having to remove bathroom doors so wheelchairs can get in, being confronted with steps they were not expecting, and having to take masses of equipment on holiday.

"Before, it was appalling," said Conrad Hodgkinson, from Sheffield, who runs and whose wife Christine, 56, has multiple sclerosis. "We had to take a bed, special mattress and a hoist if we stayed in an ordinary British hotel."

One of the biggest challenges facing hotels has been how to prevent disabled bedrooms looking like hospital wards. "Disabled equipment can be a turn-off for some guests," admitted Andy Hageman, co-owner of Mortons House Hotel in Dorset, which has made improvements (see next page).

The most important requirements are easy access, wide doors, wheel-in showers, grab rails, and a good turning circle. DRC (0845 7622633, Tourism for

All (0845 1249971, is a charity that can provide information on accommodation for people with disabilities.

Next page: six of the best for access


Mortons House Hotel

THIS lovely Elizabethan hotel, built in 1590, includes two excellent connecting wheelchair-accessible rooms in a new building. There's a height-adjustable shower seat, a shower alarm, and stylish grab rails.

Mortons House Hotel, Corfe Castle, Dorset (01929 480988, Doubles from £126, B&B.

Shap Wells Hotel

A PRETTY hotel in the middle of the Lake District. Two fully adapted wheelchair-accessible bedrooms on the ground floor, plus access from the courtyard along with a new lift in the main hotel.

Shap Wells Hotel near Penrith, Cumbria (01931 716628, Doubles from £124, B&B.

Ivy House Country Hotel

A FINE hotel, by Oulton Broad, with two well equipped, accessible rooms, wheel-in showers, grab rails and convenient parking.

Ivy House, Lowestoft, Suffolk (01502 501353, Doubles from £114, B&B.

Castle House Hotel

TOP-of-the-range luxury in a beautiful historic house — voted the AA Accessible Hotel of the Year 2003/4. It has a luxury suite for wheelchair users, with a sit-in power shower and an adjustable king-size bed.

Castle House Hotel, Hereford (01432 356321, Doubles from £225, B&B.

The New Lanark Mill Hotel

A CONVERTED cotton mill set in scenic countryside, an hour's drive from Glasgow and Edinburgh. Five fully equipped, spacious rooms, wheel-in showers, grab rails, an alarm, lifts, easy parking.

The New Lanark Mill Hotel (01555 667200,, South Lanarkshire. Doubles from £119, dinner, B&B.

Chain hotels

Try: Moat House in Stratford-upon-Avon (01789 279988); Novotel in Edinburgh (0131-656 3500); Best Western in Brecon, Powys (01874 624611); Adnams, The Swan, Southwold, Suffolk (0870 4188079); Shire Hotels, Thorpe Park Hotel & Spa, Leeds (0113-264 1000).


Copyright 2004 Times Newspapers Ltd.